Working for Wasa: what you already know, what you have always wondered and what you might not expect

Working for Wasa is by now well known not only by those who are close to Students for Humanity’s members but also, more and more, by people who heard about the project, recognized the passion we pour into it, and decided to support our work.

We are thankful and proud of being able to keep on developing such a wonderful project - born in 2011 in a small village in the middle of Tanzania, Working for Wasa has in fact grown exponentially throughout the years thanks to the effort of volunteers, members and donors, each providing a piece of the human and tangible resources necessary to empower Wasa’s community and make it autonomous in the future. Health, education, practical work and fulfillment of basic needs have been the focus of our work with the people living in Wasa, and especially with the students attending the Vocational Training Center we funded.

This year in particular signed a turning point for the project, and we cannot wait to share the achievements Wasa has reached. And what better way to do so than in collaboration with the Association Bookcity Milan? Students for Humanity will in fact be engaged in the 2019 edition through several initiatives aimed at promoting culture and reading all around the city!

Wasa will be our leading subject: we will convey as much knowledge as possible about our project and especially about the lives, stories and experiences of both the people living in Wasa and the volunteers cooperating with them.

So, to warm up a bit before this huge event and to give a taste of what you will see and hear during Bookcity, we decided to leave the word to one of our members, Diletta Savoldi. She was the coordinator of the Working for Wasa project during last year and, above all, she has been to Wasa four times in the last two years, showing commitment and great love and being entrusted by Students for Humanity to spend the whole summer in Wasa to follow the project on a continuous basis.

Enjoy the first part of the interview, stay tuned for the follow up, and see you soon at Bookcity! Here are the dates to write down:

  • November 14 to 30 at Velodromo Building (Piazza Sraffa 13) – “Si scrive Wasa, si legge Casa” photographic reportage

  • November 15 from 6.30pm at Libreria Egea – “Afriche, storie non stop”

For more information and for registering to the event, visit Bookcity

Do you think there is a difference between volunteering and cooperation? What is Students for Humanity aiming at?

I think that only after having experienced both, one might be able to understand the difference, which of course is vast.

Volunteering goes in one side: providing aid to someone or some situations, respecting a well-defined role.

Cooperation, instead, goes in both direction: the operators need to connect with the people they are willing to cooperate with - they also have to deserve the trust necessary to make them do the same. It takes time, it requires to understand lifestyle, habits and needs of the community so to figure out a way to work together, each part contributing with its own resources. The role of the organizations conducting cooperation projects is “subsidiary” in a way: we have to make our resources fit with the local context, give the community the input to improve a certain condition and build together the knowledge and skills necessary to make those improvements sustainable in the long-term.

Students for Humanity goes straight in this direction, with the objective to give to the village of Wasa the input to grow and become autonomous, without changing its natural balance.

How many times have you been to Wasa and what pushed you to come back?

The first time I went to Wasa was on August 2017. Then, I went back other three times in June 2018, April 2019 and from July to September 2019.

In total, I spent six months in Wasa - one quarter of my last two years. There are two main reasons why I decided and felt the need to come back.

First, I felt like having left something halfway, something unfinished, and that I could do more.

The time there never seems enough to give the community back as much as they give to me.

Second, I had the fortune to build a unique connection with the people of the village and especially the students of the Vocational Training Center. I understood that one of the main contribution we could give to improve their lives was building personal relationships, having trust in their capacities and deserving their trust back. This would be a first step to better their lives. Their smiles would be enough to change ours.

Is the presence of non-local figures on an ongoing basis necessary? Why?

I really believe in the importance of having someone in Wasa for more than a month and for more than once. Working for Wasa is a cooperation project in a small village in the center of Tanzania, thousands kilometers far from here, both geographically and culturally speaking.

Understanding the community’s culture, beliefs and behaviors is not easy and it does not happen quickly. You never stop learning, and until you understand their culture you cannot really think to contribute in the right way.

Being able to do all of this in just one month (which is the average time each group of volunteers spend in Wasa) is difficult and ambitious. This is the reason why allowing some people to come back constitutes a precious asset for both the organization and the village, as volunteers’ knowledge about Wasa grows exponentially every time they are back in the village. On the other hand, the organization recognizes that this is not possible for everyone and, more importantly, that fresh and in a way “unconscious” eyes experiencing Wasa for the first time are as much a resource as those visiting for the third time. Curiosity, enthusiasm and exposure to a completely new context are very often the key to finding new ways to better cooperate with the community and to better answer to their needs.

On their side, for the people and the students of the village, seeing new faces and meeting new people is of course of great motivation - the same holds true about reuniting again with the same volunteers whom they already trust and who already believe in them. Indeed, the hope of seeing us again gives them an incentive to take care of the projects, so to show us the improvements that they made during our absence, and to be proud of managing something that just started with us.

Who represents the point of reference in the village of Wasa among local people? How would you describe the relationship Students for Humanity built with them?

The main points of reference, both at the institutional and personal level, are the priests of the village, who are called “Baba”. This year, two new priests came to the village and they will be in charge of the mission for at least the next three years. Baba Stanislaus and his fellow Baba David are also the o

nes we discuss our ideas with, and to which we propose solutions and actions to implement in the village. We learnt that effective decisions are always the results of discussion, especially with those people who know the context better than we do and are seen by the community as “leaders”. We also learnt that our point of reference has to be represented by all the people involved in the project: the teachers of the school, the cookers, the students and the other families living in the village. Everyone has useful skills and can contribute significantly.

How much do personal and informal relationships with reference figures affect the management of the project?

It is fundamental to have good informal relations with the figures who are recognized as point of reference by the community. It is necessary to respect the role they have in the society, which is the role the community gave them. We have to compromise and balance our role with theirs, in order to cooperate and operate in the same direction. Ultimately, it is also thanks to these fundamental figures that the project survives and grows. As an organization we plan and we give ourselves goals and deadlines - with the risk, at times, of not being able to adapt the project to the community’s needs. We recognize this potential weak point of ours, and therefore we never act with the arrogance of thinking to know what locals need better than they themselves do, and let local leaders guide us in this process.

Which anecdote about Wasa would you share with someone who has never been there?

It was 5pm, and after an entire day of work some of the students needed to go to a village closeby to take some corn bags, and I went with them. They loaded the truck with 15 bags weighing 100 kg each, and at 8pm we headed back to the village. On the way, the truck broke, so they started pushing it up a climb - eventually, they decided to stop and ask for help. We waited three hours and we were freezing, sitting around the truck. The guys were more concerned about me than themselves. I decided to move away to let them care about themselves and rest. After a while, they found me lying on the corn bags, so they reached me, seated in a circle around me and tried to keep me warm. I simply cannot explain the mixture of emotions that I felt.

We leave you with this image in mind, looking forward the second part of the interview, in which Diletta will tell us more about how Working for Wasa project is proceeding and will share some anecdotes and emotional moments experienced in Wasa.

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